The History Of Horse Racing: A Timeline


Horse racing is an ancient and wondrous sport with a rich heritage in many countries across the globe. We have charted its rise to prominence:

4000 BC – Nomadic tribesmen started to race horses for sport in Central Asia. Humans living in the steppe lands north of the Black Sea first domesticated the wild horse, and eventually raced them in the area that now makes up modern day Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine.

648 BC – Mounted horse racing and chariot racing were included in the ancient Greek Olympic Games. The Greeks, Romans and the Byzantines are credited with first breeding horses for speed more than physical strength, and racing grew popular among ancient Egyptians and Syrians too.

200 AD – The Romans brought racing to England. Emperor Septimius Severus raced Arabian horses at an encampment in Wetherby.

550 AD – Horse racing began in Japan, when riders competed against one another at religious ceremonies and festivals designed to pray for an abundant harvest,

631 AD – The English began to saddle their horses, making it easier for jockeys to stay aboard their mounts at high speeds.

925 AD – The earliest written mention of horse racing came when Hugh of the French House of Capet gifted horses to King Athelstan of England. Athelstan is regarded as the first King of England, and he banned the export of English horses because he believed they were superior to those found in continental Europe.

1174 – The first recorded race meetings were held at Smithfield in London during the reign of Henry II. They took place during the annual St Bartholomew’s horse fair.

1512 – A small wooden ball decorated with flowers was presented to the winner of a race at Chester. It is the first known occurrence of a trophy being awarded to a race winner. This took place during the reign of Henry VIII, when records became a lot more substantial. He kept a stud at Eltham and a training ground in Greenwich, while he imported a large number of stallions and mares for breeding.

1540 – Racing was officially established at Chester in the north of England. It is officially recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest surviving racecourse still in operation in the world. Darlington, the home of the St Leger, was established 55 years later.

1603 – The first datable evidence of horse racing in Ireland is a royal warrant entitling the governor of Derry to holds fairs at which races could take place.

1619 – The first known Rules of Racing date from Kiplingcotes in Yorkshire.

1634 – The first gold cup event took place at Newmarket in the east of England, and the sport continued to thrive under Charles I. Oliver Cromwell banned racing 20 years later, but then Charles II brought it back.

1655 – British settlers brought the first horses, and the sport of racing, to America, and then laid out the continent’s first racetrack on Long Island in 1665.

1702 – Queen Anne ascended to the English throne and turned horse racing into a professional sport. Spectators wagered on multi-horse race. Queen Anne founded Ascot Racecourse in 1711.

1750 – The Jockey Club was formed to create official Rules of Racing and professionalise the sport.

1768 – The world-famous Royal Ascot meeting was first held over four days. The Ascot God Cup did not begin until 1807.

1780 – The Derby was inaugurated at Epsom. It eventually inspired the creation of the Kentucky Derby in 1875.

1797 – The first official horse race took place in South Africa at Cape Town’s Green Point Common.

1810 – Major General Lachlan Macquarie, a colonial administrator from Scotland, introduced horse racing to Australia. The first meeting was held at Hyde Park in Sydney.

1830 – Steeplechase racing began at St Albans, and the Grand National was established at Aintree in 1839. The Cheltenham Festival began in 1860.

1861 – The Melbourne Cup was first held in Australia. Archer scooped 7,000 guineas for his owner by winning the inaugural running, but it has gone on to become the world’s pre-eminent race for stayers, with huge prize money and prestige. It remains a popular race in the calendar, attracting TV viewership of 750 million people.

1867 – The Belmont Stakes was first held in New York. The Preakness Stakes was inaugurated in 1873 and the Kentucky Derby began two years later. They would eventually form the Triple Crown.

1894 – The leading track and stable owners in the United States met to establish the American Jockey Club in New York.

1920 – The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was first held. A three-year-old colt named Comrade won 150,000 francs for his owner, Count Evremond de Saint-Alary.

1947 – Hamilton in the UK hosted the first ever evening race meeting, with floodlights providing a backdrop to the action.

1948 – The Belmont Stakes became the first televised horse race when CBS broadcast the action.

1981 – The Arlington Million in Illinois became the first thoroughbred race to offer prize money of $1 million. A horse called John Henry won it that year.

1984 – The Breeders’ Cup Classic began with Wild Again securing a thrilling victory ahead of Gate Dancer and Slew o’ Gold.

1996 – The Dubai World Cup was first contested at Meydan Racecourse. It has gone on to become the richest evening of racing in the world, with $30 million dished out this year.

2020 – The first edition of the Saudi Cup was held in Riyadh. It had a prize pool of $20 million, making it the richest race in the world, although it has refused to pay connections of winner Maximum Security due to doping charges.

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